Origin: Making 3D Printing ready for Mass Production

Origin launched from stealth today with $10M in new funding to bring 3D printing into the mainstream and revolutionize additive manufacturing. Here’s why we think this is a big deal.

Over $12 Trillion of manufactured goods were produced in 2017

Trillions of mass-produced interchangeable parts — everything from nuts and bolts to circuit boards and cases and containers formed the guts of these products.

The core approach to making these parts has evolved from the ideas of Eli Whitney about two hundred years ago: Planned manufacturing of distinct, interchangeable parts, based on tooling. Later, in 1860s the Hyatt brothers invented injection molding, which was another important leap forward.

Today, a “tool and die” based manufacturer usually creates a standard mold for a part, which costs a fair amount of money upfront…and then makes a massive number of pieces to justify the initial investment. These parts flow through the physical nervous systems of supply chains throughout the world.

What if we could make parts with 3D printers?

What if we could use software to describe parts and 3D printers to make them? We could make pieces one at a time and for one customer at a time. And we could locate printers closer to where the products are consumed, which would be more efficient and environmentally sustainable. We could radically simplify supply chains or reinvent the whole idea of what a supply chain is in the first place. We could also improve speed and flexibility for hardware design cycles, enabling the same type of agility we see when producing software. We might even be able to democratize manufacturing the way computers, and the Internet allowed anyone to be a publisher.

But 3D printing so far has not been sufficient for making parts for serious business at scale. On the consumer side, the early 3D printers made pieces that looked cheap and plasticky. And on the business side, 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) has involved expensive machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Further, these machines have forced manufacturers to use their proprietary and costly materials to produce the parts. Even though the results can be exciting and futuristic, the cost of producing parts has relegated the first-generation offerings to niche applications and prototyping

Enter Origin

Almost two years ago, I met Chris Prucha and Joel Ong: Two founders with a breakthrough idea that they called Origin. What if you made a 3D printer with commodity parts? What if you could make it work with anybody’s materials? And anybody’s design software? And what if the parts were super high-quality and useful in business-critical settings? The result would revolutionize additive manufacturing by making it orders of magnitude more cost-effective. 3D printing would work for mass production for the first time. The world of Eli Whitney would expand into a new world of software-defined, networked manufacturing.

Origin Co-Founders Chris Prucha and Joel Ong

Chris and Joel had intriguing backgrounds for the job. Chris had been a software designer at Apple and had already helped start a productivity software company. Since he grew up in Michigan, he had been passionate about mechanical products and manufacturing even before he became excited about software. Joel had worked on bleeding-edge initiatives at Google[X] as well as Chrome and was a perfect complement to Chris’ technical skills. They said they could bring Origin to life and have been toiling away in stealth for over two years now with a great team that has shown extraordinary commitment.

Making it real — With BASF

Origin has launched its approach to open additive production today. It includes extensible software, modular hardware, and an open approach to materials. By accomplishing this feat, the team has managed to build more than just a great product…They have launched a movement, and they have enlisted an essential partner to make this movement real from day one.

BASF, with over $70 Billion in revenue and 115,000 employees, is one of the largest chemical companies in the world. Today, they announced that they would develop materials for the Origin platform. And the partnership is already bearing results. Working with BASF over the last year, Origin has developed a new print process for BASF’s new photopolymers that produces a combination of surface finish, mechanical strength, and throughput that sets a new milestone in the industry. BASF will be showing this in their booth at the Formnext conference next week

Sample part printed by BASF materials and Origin technology

Empowering the Makers at mass scale

Like so many other sectors of the economy, software-defined networks are on the precipice of reinventing the way parts get made. Someday, most parts won’t be made with a physical tool and die. They will be defined in software and pushed to the edge, one at a time. By leveraging the powers of mass computation and mass connectivity to the opportunity to make parts, we will have better products at a lower cost, more sustainability in mass production, and the ability to get products to underserved remote places throughout the world. What’s harder to predict is how this change will empower ever smaller groups to become micro-manufacturers with “factories” that can be barely larger than the footprint of a laser printer.

If you would like to learn more about Origin, the founders offer a good overview here.